|The Secret Garden
Blogging time seems in short supply, but I've been mulling a blog post for a while about books I'm reading with the boys. When I go into bookshops these days, I'm often struck by how the kids' books seem to be divided by gender. The "boys" books, all about superheroes and dragons and wars and monsters, as opposed to the "girls" books, with their slightly pinkish covers, all about friendships and school and ballet and horses.
Now I know that getting boys to read can be an issue; I've read countless articles about "books for boys", and how we must encourage them by feeding them with subject matter that interests them, etc. And maybe it has been ever thus; after all, I grew up loving Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes and L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, while my husband remembers devouring TinTin and Lord of the Rings (both of which my boys adore too). Clearly there have always been books that appeal, in general, to one sex more than another, just as with toys, however we much we don't like to admit it.
But my point is that we shouldn't rule out the books that we think our children won't enjoy. The boys have surprised me on several occasions. For example, I have read the Littleboys most of the the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series, and for the most part they were riveted. Maybe they enjoyed different bits to me as a child -- instead of imagining Laura's Christmas hair ribbons and poplin dresses, they're more fascinated by how the family built their shanty -- but the point is, they're great stories.
The boys are also starting to love classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows which have a universal appeal -- don't rule these out for being too old-fashioned. They find A.A. Milne hilarious, and they're currently listening with fascination to the Wind in the Willows, despite the fact that the language is quite heavy going for today's kids.(A note: I tried to read these books to them when they were younger, without success. But it seems nine and seven is the perfect age).
What really surprised me this week was when, all of us recovering from said tummy bug, the boys and I sat down to watch a 1975 TV series of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. This was something that came free a few years ago with a newspaper, and I had found among our DVD collection, long-forgotten since we moved to the US. Having not read it since I was a child, I would have said on balance that this was a "girl's" book, but the boys loved watching this serial so much that, as the credits rolled for the last episode, Littleboy was heard to say incredulously: "That's it? There's no more?"
That the same boy who is currently enjoying Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters could be riveted by the tale of Mary Lennox and her invalid cousin is a testament to the power of great writing. So, bookstores, don't be afraid to mix it up a bit -- and fellow parents, we should all remember that a good story is a good story, whether it contains monsters and zombies or gardens and foxcubs.